Monday, March 27, 2006

The Only Job in the Art World Worse than Being a Gallerina?

I'm insanely busy today, so the artist of the week is being postponed...hopefully I'll get it live later this evening. In the meanwhile, I got a request via email from an artist for information on how to get a job as an art handler.

I know there are galleries with staffs large enough to include an "art handler" position on the payroll, but for most galleries in my circle, the name on the door is the name of the art handler, and floor sweeper, as well as owner/director and candlestick maker. Then I realized perhaps the artist sought a job working with an art shipper. Long story short: I know many artists who work as "art handlers" but don't know 1) what the application process is like or 2) whether there are things to look out for in getting such a job. I've heard countless tales of woe from artist--art-handlers who were sorry they fell into that line of work (mostly because of how humbling it was to move the work of their former classmates who were doing so well and other such situations), so I was surprised by the email. But clearly, it's a good honest job and perhaps the only folks I hear from are the ones who don't like the work...perhaps there are happy artists--art-handlers who it never occurs to to complain.

So, any advice (pro or con) about this line of work? Who are the good art shippers to work for?

25 Comments:

Blogger Mark said...

I humbly suggest, pick a company, Fine Art Express, USArt, etc and give them a call or better visit. It is good work, you get into some amazing homes, meet collectors, good and horrid, just like a gallerist :). It's valuable experience for an artist to see the biz side. Some jobs go cross country.

3/27/2006 02:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

art handling for a trucking/shipping company sucks. the pay is shit. you're much better off freelancing for different galleries, where you can at least get $20/hour. sure, you get into some nice homes, but you're a slave and they usually treat you like one. those rich fucks won't even offer you a glass of water. and tips are few and far between.

3/27/2006 03:15:00 PM  
Anonymous JL said...

I don't know the shipping companies from the inside, but I think that if someone wanted to work for them, it would be useful to have, in addition to having experience packing and handling art, a license to drive a truck. I'm not going to endorse any given shipper (especially as an employer, given I've never worked for one), but the companies Mark mentions are reputable ones. There are others.

Most museums above a certain size will have their own preparators on staff, or regular contracting arrangements. There's got to be a number of them in the New York area. For those positions, a knowledge of carpentry and related skills is generally needed. AAM maintains jobs listings on their site, and museums often post openings on their websites. Regional museum associations (like NEMA) are also good places to turn for listings.

3/27/2006 03:22:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

anon, you probably scared them to death. As jl said the more talents you have the more valuable your services are. Turn it into a positive, they may buy your work next.

3/27/2006 03:51:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

In the film Basquiat, Willem Defoe played an artist who was working for galleries as an art handler (actually he was an electrician, but why dwell on details). One of his lines was "I'll be forty in July, and I'm glad I never got recognition. It gives me time to develop."

So I think that's the way to go. Instead of actually working as an art handler, become an actor and play one in a movie. I hear the pay is better.

3/27/2006 04:00:00 PM  
Anonymous onesock said...

I am teaching now but for years I did art handling and preparatory work at galleries and museums. I agree with anon about the benefits of freelance, but if this person needs experience then the art shipping and publishing companies are a good start. Volunteer at a museum (even science). If you have carpentry skills, can paint walls, etc., working at a museum can be fun . I once worked at an art slash science museum and it was a blast because I was able to work in both areas and see so many different things.

3/27/2006 04:57:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Pro: I started in museums, and onesock is right about it being potentially fun. You learn a LOT about how to handle work safely, paint a whole room without spilling a drop, and generally become really anal. Much better than crate building or gallery slave, IMO. Much more civilized.

Con: My mother told me never, ever to learn how to type or sew, because women who are competent at those things never do anything else. Stupid, stupid, stupid! I learned how to weld and do carpentry. It's *worse* because the thing that gets you is not gender, it's competency. Be very careful about becoming the Willem Dafoe character--it really does happen. Learn how to say No. Remember that working for artists is often not a good idea.

Value your competency as much as other people do, and don't ever give it away.

3/27/2006 05:53:00 PM  
Anonymous JL said...

You learn a LOT about how to handle work safely, paint a whole room without spilling a drop, and generally become really anal.

This is so true it should be on a billboard.

3/27/2006 06:04:00 PM  
Anonymous onesock said...

Fisher's comment is very true and I remember getting into that Wilem Dafoe rut right before I went to grad school. It seemed I was cast in a position other than being an artist. But all that has changed now that I am teaching and the skills gained thru those jobs helped me this summer when I built my studio.

3/27/2006 06:30:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

The thing about DeFoe is he's also been Jesus, a kidnapper and the Green Goblin. It's good to be versatile :)

3/27/2006 06:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've done it!
...even given advice to artists who need to rethink how their art handles time--given advice, and by example shown some very practical points that insures a collector's trust with the more pragmatic issues that don't get worked through at art school even at grad.

Being everything is great until you are nothing. Being everything is everything, until everything starts to reduce your own potential.

I stopped when I introduced an artist, who I had worked with deep and thoroughly, to a collector who was also collecting my work, and that artist called me their assistant.

Egos are monster things. Each artist has them. A handler is deemed perhaps one who has less potential, competent to develop another's work, not able to push their own out.

101
Help yourself and when you are in a position to help others, the self would have been already well-established.

Become a curator instead. It's more rewarding!!! And then an obvious bonus is handling it:=)

3/28/2006 04:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Art Source said...

So I think that's the way to go. Instead of actually working as an art handler, become an actor and play one in a movie. I hear the pay is better.

3/28/2006 08:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes , art handling does suck. Do not work full time for anyone. If you think you have the talent to succeed (as an artist) than go for it all and only work part time. If you try and hedge your bet by working full time you will be in a rut before you know it. Either get success and risk some monetary discomfort, or get a specialty that is respected, ie photography, design.

7/30/2007 04:20:00 PM  
OpenID alchemy said...

I appreciate finding this post. I've finally come to the realization as an art major that I should work more art oriented jobs. It's good to read people's experiences.

2/08/2008 02:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff,
I think art handling is a difficult one to get into, It took me about 18 months of invigilating in galleries, painting walls and stuffing envelopes before I started installing shows around the U.K. By chance I met the owner of a small art handling company and I now work mostly with him. As with anything with the art world nothing comes to you in the conventional way. I work part time and have a studio to my my own work in so the balance is good. What I often find with large art handling companies is that there are alot of egos, who do not appreciate the art works that they deal with, I hate that this exists. You do work with some testing characters, old Lords and Ladies, curators who need personality transplants, but it is an interesting job. Yes we are anal, but we work with beautiful and treasured objects and that is a wonderful privelage.

4/29/2008 12:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think art handling is OK if you are in some kind of transition, but long term??? no way.
If you are an artist it is important to assess what you want with this short life. Many artist suffer financial insecurity for many years before they "make it". I've been freelance art handling for 4 months and it scares me to me the 50-60 yr old. They appear to me to be quite bitter. I've met people 40,50, and older...art handling, no savings, no retirement, and still art handling. Scary.
Artists shouldn't put passion before principle. It is more important to have a place to live, adequate food, and some money saved for rainy days.

8/20/2008 01:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's good to freelance, but the work is less steady. I agree that it's a start but you can navigate into shipping or collection manager, registrar etc.
I am going back to school for an MFA in the fall and was just interviewing for an art shipping coordinator job. The company seems cool, but I can only offer them 30 hrs of my time a week (to balance with school)I can tell you that it's not an easy sacrifice (work and art) No real wisdom here except that financial stability is important as is creative freedom. The difficult thing is keeping work from suffocating the desire to make art or performing to the point of a pastime.

6/09/2010 07:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

although many galleries do have a better hourly pay there are a few art companys I here who pay well like Crozier,Marshalls, and SRI.
SRI pays well my buddy told me but keep and eye on the owner like some one said here learn to say NO.

7/13/2010 12:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been a Handler for six years. Five of those years I have worked for TDI in Chicago. It has its ups and downs. I work with a lot of amazing people and a lot of jerks. All in all, if your a serious artist, working full time is hard if not impossible. That being said, it is a way to get a good look at what happens in the market. It will humble you and infuriate you at the same time. I recommend it if your young and really don't know what to do. It will help you grow. But remember to have an exit plan and get back to your studio.

11/16/2010 08:43:00 AM  
Blogger noto said...

These comments are so hilarious and true I feel better reading them. I left my art handler non-job for a better paying job and I still pine over an art handler job. Its driving me to realize I'll have to spend thousands of dollars and hours that I don't have on grad school if I want to ever get a permanent job for like $20 an hour,(not enough money to pay off that much of a loan). I thought the job was kinda awesome, but I don't want to be like that when I am 50. I'm starting to think that the art world is racked by pretentious nonsense. Its super snooty.

8/25/2011 04:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@david I challenge your anecdote with another anecdote. Josh Smith painter worked as an art handler for Lurig augestine later to become chris wools studio assistant to later become a house hold name in contemporary painting and from what i can tell hes probly wiping his ass with Benjamin's at this point.

3/08/2013 03:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

art handlers required at Constantine Ltd, London adrianc@const.co.uk one of the biggest art transporters in the uk, lgv licence a bonus

10/01/2013 07:33:00 PM  
Blogger Hoey D said...

Really interesting post. Thanks! I'm writing an article about art handlers (and exploring that situation where you end up transporting your now-famous former classmates work) and wonder if you could put me in touch with anyone who might tell me their story? I'm joedunthorne (at) gmail (dot) com

Thanks!

11/25/2013 12:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been doing it for 17 years. I get to see some great art, meet artists and work with great people. I construct crates and pack art most of the time. It is fun and sometimes very taxing. The pay at most museums is sad, many view the position as unimportant and don't provide the incentive to make it a career. Weird thing is, I'm still learning about the job. I have home made apps that tell me what the static load is for a work of art so that I can choose the correct cushioning for shock mitigation. It's about 50/50 self taught and passed down. I can do my bosses job and have when they were away, but they can not do mine, yet they make loads more money...

1/29/2014 10:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you think you might want to be an art handler try contacting a registrar. I was a registrar for many years and hired freelance art handlers and also worked at a museum that had f/t art handlers on staff who seemed to be more disgruntled.
I hired the ones with the best attitudes over and over. Ones that knew their trade well and were really good at creative problem solving but most importantly, were not prima donnas. The most important thing in installing an exhibition is to have a harmonious team.
We pay art handlers as much as we could -- often more than we made ourselves.

3/27/2014 11:40:00 AM  

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